Can we call them SpielBrams now? The Infant Terrible who became the establishment teams up with the current golden touch to make a film that, lets face it, is ALL about Steven. Spielberg produces this slice of alien saturated Americana. JJ Abrams directs with Steven’s hand firmly up his back. Super 8 couldn’t be more Spielbergian if Jurassic Park was populated with sharks complaining about the holocaust. HaHa.
Small town America throws up a thousand images from the movies. From The Last Picture Show, past Blue Velvet, Paris Texas, American Graffiti and U-Turn, all the way up to No Country for Old Men, America outside it’s cities has been the setting place for every story imaginable. Jaws, Close Encounters and ET make Spielberg more familiar than most with picket fences, friendly sheriffs and high school football.
We’re in Ohio, but it could be anywhere, where five friends are shooting a zombie film on super 8 during the school holidays. Out late at night without permission, they witness a (brilliantly realised) train crash. The train turns out to have been US Airforce and it was carrying something dangerous which has now escaped. Continuing with their film, the strange events that begin to plague the town eventually give way to hysteria and a showdown with something not of this world. Only the five friends and a lowly deputy Sheriff can save the day.
Written and directed by Abrams (he who remade Star Trek which EBFS universally loved) this is a homage to the films he grew up with, namely American Graffiti, The Goonies and Close Encounters, Jaws and ET. So it’s a good job Steven is looking over his shoulder to make sure he homages properly. Abrams does so well at aping his hero that it’s a genuine surprise when John Williams name isn’t in the credits. Jaws gets a nod with a sheriff protecting a small town, Indy’s falling off a cliff scene is recreated here perfectly and the alien theme takes care of ET and Close Encounters.
Fortunately, since Spielberg was so good at this kind of thing that sticking to his methods proves to be no bad thing. The story is (semi) plausible, the kids banter and bicker with an easy assurance that is a pleasure to see (It’s too late for Potter now) and everything looks perfect for it’s early eighties setting. The time period, whilst being “right” for this homage is also convenient in removing mobile phones and google and everything we take for granted that could’ve proved extremely handy in every situation here.
The set up is expertly handled, themes and characters introduced seamlessly. Inbetween the train crash and the big alien reveal is even better. Something is wrong but no-one knows what. Dog’s disappear, power flickers and there is a growing military presence on the streets. The tension here is palpable and it’s skillfully ramped up and up to breaking point. The army evacuate the town ready to raze it to the ground in their pursuit for the creature, fortunately thay miss the kids, the sheriff and the femme fatale (Elle Fanning) allowing them to wrap it up in an empty town. Once the Alien is revealed and it’s history explained the filmtakes a slight downturn towards the end but the goodwill accrued up to that point drags it over the line of a semi satisfying conclusion.
The credits contain the zombie film the kids were making (itself a homage) which is way better that Transformers 3.